Friday, October 16, 2015

Russian Attitudes about the State a Gulf Between Their Country and West, ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 16 – Despite intensifying anti-Western feelings among Russians, their country remains European in many ways except for one in particular – their view of the state as something sacred and apart rather than a set of institutions whose leaders change and that are intended to work for the benefit of the population, the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” say.

            On the one hand, this is a powerful resource for the Kremlin which can use it to justify any conflict with the West it chooses to create or exploit. But on the other, it limits Moscow’s allies because conservatives in Europe with whom Russia hopes to form an alliance may hate the EU bureaucracy but they have not ceased to be Europeans.

            In a lead article today, the editors of the Moscow paper say that new poll results show that “anti-Westernism has become more conscious and declarative” among Russians, with the share of Russians who do not consider themselves Western rising over the last seven years from 43 to 53 percent (

                In 2008, the paper’s editors say, 46 percent of Russians had a positive attitude toward the Western way of life, while 30 percent had a negative one. Now, they continue, “the situation is diametrically opposed: 30 percent approve how people live in the West, while 45 percent do not.”

                This shift means “above all that already on the level of national self-consciousness and self-awareness has been created a powerful resource on which the authorities may operating when entering into conflict with the West on any issue or carrying out any anti-Western initiative.”

            Moreover, it means that there is ever less support for the view that Russia and the West have “common goals” such as restraining the rise of China or “other threats from the East.”  At present, “to many Russians, the West and Western people are alien and this is already sufficient to justify confrontation.”

            But this set of values does not always work the way the Kremlin might like to see it, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” continues.  “The Russian authorities and earlier the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church have been positioning Moscow as the global center of health conservatism,” the defender of correct values in opposition to liberal “distortions.”

            That is reflected in “the warm relations of the ruling elite of the Russian Federation with Westernn rightists like Urban, le Pen, and Italy’s Northern League,” the paper says. But Russia “with its anti-Western self-consciousness in fact has no basis to struggle for the conservative spirit of Europe.”

            French, Hungarian and Italian nationalists have many complaints about the EU bureaucracy and support traditional society and local cultures, “but at the same time, they do not cease to consider themselves Europeans or Western peoples.” That puts Russia and these people at odds.
            Russians say they “reject Western culture, but do they understand what they are saying?” Russian television and state propaganda “are convincing them that the West is materialistic and opposed to our spirituality even as it destroys itself by approving one-sex marriages.”  But that perspective, the paper says, “is extremely primitive.”

            “In reality,” the editors say, Russia is far more western than eastern, in its urban architecture and organization, its political institutions (although these do not work in the same way), in its food and dress, theater and music. Moreover, “its ruling religion” was inherited “from the Roman Empire, albeit from its eastern part.”

            What distinguishes Russians from the West is its relationship to the powers that be.  Russians simply do not view the state in the same way Westerners do. They see their rulers as being irreplaceable and the state’s interests above their own. They are skeptical about democracy and the coming to power of “’one of their own,’” and the circulation of elites.

            “In other words,” Russians distrust “the entire set of principles and procedures which have led to the de-sacralization of power and its transformation into an institute of hired managers.” Russian “preferences in this regard are not Western and not European. This is Asiatic covered in Western paper.”

            Curiously, many of the gastarbeiters from Central Asia have similar values about the state and a similar aversion to the west; but typically Russians view them as bearers of an alien culture. That raises the questions just what culture is “closer to us?” and just what culture should Russians assume they are part of or separate from?

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